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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

EC seeks Maharashtra CEO report on hiring agency ‘with BJP link’

RTI activist Saket Gokhale alleged on Twitter Thursday that the Maharashtra CEO had "hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media" before the election.

Written by Ritika Chopra , Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai, New Delhi |
July 24, 2020 1:44:16 am
Reacting to the allegations, EC spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan tweeted, “Regarding tweet of Mr Gokhale @SaketGokhale Commission has sought detailed factual report in this matter from CEO Maharashtra with respect to alleged locale of the incident immediately.” (File)

The Election Commission on Thursday sought a report from the Chief Electoral Officer of Maharashtra on allegations of hiring an agency associated with the BJP for publicity work before the Assembly election last year.

RTI activist Saket Gokhale alleged on Twitter Thursday that the Maharashtra CEO had “hired the BJP IT Cell for handling their social media” before the election. Gokhale said that the government-empanelled agency employed by the CEO shared its registered address with another agency that was owned by Devang Dave, national convenor of IT and social media of BJP’s youth wing.

Reacting to the allegations, EC spokesperson Sheyphali Sharan tweeted, “Regarding tweet of Mr Gokhale @SaketGokhale Commission has sought detailed factual report in this matter from CEO Maharashtra with respect to alleged locale of the incident immediately.”

As per records, the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations (DGIPR) had appointed Signpost India Private Limited for social media publicity work of Election Commission of India, Maharashtra in 2018. The contract was awarded after a tendering process.

Formed in 2008, Signpost is registered at 202, Pressman House, Near Santacruz Airport Terminal, Vile Parle. As per records, the firm has four directors — Sushil Pandey, Rajesh Batra, Shripad Ashtekar and Dipankar Chatterjee. Social Central Media Solutions, of which Devang Dave is managing director, also uses the same address, but none of Signpost’s directors is officially on the firm’s directorial board. Dave’s firm was founded in 2015.

Dave, when contacted, said, “Baseless allegations are being raised against me to suit the political narrative of Opposition parties. I’m being targeted as I come from a middle class background with no political legacy. My legal team is going through the accusations and will reply soon.”

Maharashtra CEO Baldev Singh told The Indian Express that the agency was recommended by the DGIPR under the state government. The agency, he said, was hired for the limited purpose of spreading voter awareness ahead of state elections.

Incidentally, the advertisements shared by Gokhale on Twitter, which he said were issued by the agency allegedly associated with the BJP on the CEO’s behalf, were on encouraging voters to vote.

“We have sought details from DGIPR on this agency, and a clarification will be issued tomorrow. I don’t think the allegations are correct,” Singh said.

When asked why the EC approached the state government to recommend an agency for voter awareness, he said, “We request them because they are a professional body that is dealing with media. They have their procedure for selecting the agency.”

Asked if the CEO office had specified its requirement for an apolitical agency, he said, “It goes without saying that the agency has to be apolitical. We will give detailed clarification tomorrow after getting all details.”

Congress leaders have demanded an investigation into the award of the contract.

Bypolls for 8 seats deferred

New Delhi: The EC has deferred bypolls for eight Assembly and Parliamentary seats in six states “in public interest”. According to sources, the deadline for completing bypolls was September 7, but the pandemic and monsoon would make it difficult to meet the deadline. The constituencies are Valmiki Nagar (Lok Sabha seat) in Bihar, Sibsagar (Assembly seat) in Assam, Thiruvottiyur and Gudiyattam (Assembly) in Tamil Nadu, Agar (Assembly) in Madhya Pradesh, Bulandshahr and Tundla (Assembly) in Uttar Pradesh, and Chavara (Assembly) in Kerala. —ENS

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